21 June 2018

A legal right for the community to enforce pollution laws is a welcome feature of the Environment Protection Bill, introduced to the Victorian Parliament this week.

The Bill, if passed into law, will replace the Environment Protection Act 1970 with a new Environment Protection Act 2018.

“This Bill represents a substantial overhaul of Victoria’s pollution control laws which, although world leading when they were introduced in 1970s, have fallen behind the times,” said EJA’s CEO, lawyer Brendan Sydes.

“We congratulate the Victorian government and especially the current environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, and her predecessor in the portfolio, Lisa Neville, who had the courage and foresight to open Victoria’s pollution control laws up to a thorough and independent review.

“A key environmental justice reform is the introduction of a legal right for the community to enforce pollution control laws.  Although we expect the Environment Protection Authority to remain the primary enforcer of pollution laws, the proposed right to take enforcement action will provide an important safety net should the EPA fail to do its job in enforcing pollution control laws.

“These new rights will ensure Victorians have the same rights as people in NSW and Queensland to enforce pollution laws.

“The Victorian community rightly looks to EPA and the legislation it administers to protect the environment and community health from harmful pollution.

“The Bill contains a general duty not to pollute, a new addition to Victoria’s legal framework that adds an important preventative focus to the legislation. This general duty replaces the existing strict liability provisions that outlaw causing pollution. It will be important that the duty to take ‘reasonably practicable’ steps to avoid pollution is not interpreted as only doing things that are cheap or easy.

“This and other innovative reforms will give the EPA regulatory tools to better protect community health and Victoria’s natural environment, accountably and responsively.

“The Bill contains welcome reforms that will improve access to information and increase the accountability of the EPA and the participation of the Victorian community. These include a legally mandated consultation charter and a register of public information.

Environment Victoria Campaigns Manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said:

“With this wave of reforms going through Parliament, the EPA can then get on with the job of protecting Victorians from pollution, with a growing focus on 21st Century challenges like global warming.

“We fully expect these reforms to gain support from all sides of politics. Nobody wants to live in a polluted world, so we need to make sure the EPA has the powers it needs to crack down on all forms of pollution.

“Five months from the state election, support for this Bill will be a test of how seriously each political party takes environmental protection.”